Utilities—we don't always think about what runs beneath our feet, diverting
water and sewer systems. But the use of proper storm sewers and culverts is
essential to keep our cities functioning, clean, and safe.
Whether handling amounts of waste, accommodating sudden onsets of water
runoff and flooding, or carrying water into agricultural sectors to irrigate
crops, utilities are the veins beneath a city's concrete surface.
One of the most commonly used types of pipe is Reinforced Concrete
Pipe, or RCP.
has been a common material for pipelines and water conveyance systems for
Concrete itself has been used as a construction material for even longer—a
couple of thousand years, in fact. RCP is a sustainable product with a
proven lifespan of more than 100+ years. This is why it is often the product
of choice by specifiers and builders.
What is Reinforced
Concrete Pipe (RCP)?
RCP is a type of piping used for directing the flow of liquids or water
These pipes are typically used in roadway and site development, as they are
designed to convey a very large amount of liquid volume and built to withstand
Because of Reinforced Concrete Pipe's
This piping is ideal for infrastructure
projects such as storm sewer conduits—RCP can handle large amounts
of any runoff, flooding, or storm surges, safely diverting it from city or
Due to its innate resilience, RCP remains strong even through disruptive
events and stressors. RCP has impressive durability, sustainability,
and proven 100 year lifespan, allowing installations to remain functional
and effective for many years. This means that residents and road users
will not be disturbed by unnecessary infrastructure rehabilitation or pipe
Where is RCP
RCP is a go-to for any utility project because it is one of the strongest and
most durable building materials available.
Because of RCP's proven lifespan, often lasting more than 100 years,
uses of concrete pipe include all types of major projects, such as:
Large Scale Irrigation
Contractors, engineers, and transportation departments
across the country can rely on RCP to be the most durable
selection in pipelines that last for well over a century.
They can trust RCP's structure, rigidity, resilience, and
dependability for many years.
What makes RCP?
RCP is constructed from concrete materials, as
the name suggests. More specifically, the concrete materials tend to
Locally sourced for each production location
Domestic steel reinforcement
As much eco-friendly material possible
RCP is resilient and sustainable, leaving a
lighter carbon footprint and minimal negative environmental impact than
other pipe materials such as plastic.
What is RCP's
Concrete pipe is proven to have an incredibly long lifespan—you can expect
RCP to last at least 100 years.
Because of RCP's
inherent strength, durability, sustainability, and resilience to environmental
factors, it will last well into the future.
RCP can handle both large liquid volumes and external loads, therefore the
extensive lifespan of RCP means less disruption to its environment and roadway
users, as the pipeline won't have to be replaced or repaired as frequently as
other pipe materials. RCP is resilient even through disruptive events and can
resist many different types of stressors.
The History of RCP
Unsurprisingly, concrete is not a new invention. Ancient cultures like the
Egyptians and Romans utilized concrete thousands of years ago. So, it's no
wonder that we have learned to depend on concrete products for many
construction needs and critical infrastructure projects.
The Origins of
One of the first recorded applications of what we now call concrete can be
traced back to the Roman Empire, around the 2nd century BC. They began mixing
volcanic ash, lime, and aggregates to create Opus Caementicium, the first
truly effective concrete.
Opus CaementiciumThe first truly effective
original concrete mixture, the Romans were able to mix a variant, known as
Pozzulana, that performed incredibly well when submerged in sea water.
The earliest known example of underwater concrete technology
Pozzuolana's use in building the seaport of Caesarea Maritima is the earliest
known example of underwater concrete technology.
Concrete Piping Systems
The first underground application of pipes and culverts to manage water and
sewer flow is also attributed to the Romans. When ancient Rome became too
overpopulated for a surface sewer ditch system, work was begun on a massive
underground concrete culvert and pipe system that drained local marshes to
remove the waste of Rome and carry it into the River Tiber.
Rome's main sewer system
And so, the Cloacae Maxima (lit. “Greatest Sewer”) was constructed around 300
BC as Rome's main sewer system.
The eleven aqueducts that fed water into the city were also harnessed to help
flush out the system, and separate pipes were installed to channel this fresh
water to various public fountains.
portions of such Roman concrete masterpieces are still standing and in use—parts
of the Cloacae Maxima are visible, as are the underwater concrete ramparts at
Some two thousand years later, these concrete structures remain sturdy even
with continuous exposure to water and liquid erosion.
The Evolution of
John Smeaton discovered a more efficient way to produce hydraulic lime for
In more modern times, a major breakthrough was made in 1793 when John Smeaton
discovered a more efficient way to produce hydraulic lime for cement, using
clay that contained limestone.
Invention of Cement
Joseph Aspdin invented Portland cement.
First apartment built
First apartment building using steel-reinforced concrete was built in Paris.
The number of large-scale concrete projects increased
The Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam also joined the ranks of large-scale
concrete projects in 1936.
First Uses of
The earliest recorded
use of concrete pipe
But the first appearance of modern-day concrete sewer systems in the USA came
about during the mid-19th century. In Mohawk, N.Y. The earliest recorded use
of concrete pipe was installed as a sewer system in 1842. In close succession,
other east coast cities began to install concrete pipelines throughout the
second half of the 19th century, with many of these pipelines still in use
Joseph Monier created
wire-enforced concrete & attained his first patent for iron-reinforced
In the 1860s, a French gardener and inventor named Joseph Monier created
wire-enforced concrete when he was experimenting with building a stronger type
of pot to withstand plant root pressure. He presented his invention at the
Paris Exposition of 1867, and obtained his first patent for iron-reinforced
concrete on July 16th, 1867.
More patents followed
in the next few years
Further patents followed, including iron-reinforced concrete pipes and basins
in 1868, iron-reinforced concrete panels for building façades in 1869, and
reinforced concrete beams in 1878.
breakthroughs in concrete pipe include the very first reinforced concrete pipes
Other development breakthroughs in concrete pipe include the very first
reinforced concrete pipes, incorporated in
France in 1896
America in 1905
Australia in 1910
Of course, these early instances of RCP were much different than what we use today. The early process of constructing a large reinforced concrete sewer via open trench and concrete poured directly in place and cured onsite.
The origin of the
method of casting concrete pipe
Later, during the 1930s, as sturdier motorized vehicles became more prevalent
in the industrial sector, reinforced concrete pipes were no longer cast and
cured at the jobsite, but were transported from regional casting factories to
Industry Usage of
In modern construction methods, though RCP is still used for many of the same
applications such as water drainage and sewer systems, the process is more
streamlined. Because concrete is the most durable and strong building material
on the market today, RCP can be found in countless infrastructure and drainage
City sewer systems are one of the essential planning aspects of any
metropolis. Sewage is a guaranteed waste product in any community, and city
planners have to take this into account to ensure the sanitation of the city
and the safety of its residents.
Because RCP is
known for sturdiness, high joint performance, and resilience; entrusting drainage
and runoff management to this product is the best option for storm sewers and
RCP is ideal for conveying liquids, it remains strong through disruptive
events and external stressors, and lasts for decades—up to 100+ years, and can
serve for even longer under the right conditions.
Under normal usage
Under right conditions and usage
Due to this lifespan and resiliency, the integrity of roadways and
infrastructure is maintained without the need for unnecessary overhaul and
Storm drains are another crucial factor in city planning and should be
designed to handle proper drainage flow rates in case of emergencies,
especially if the city is in a documented flood, hurricane, or monsoon zone.
RCP allows for heavy waterflow with minimal erosion and dependence on soil
support, making it ideal for storm drainage.
Apart from moving non potable water within cities, RCP is used for
transporting non potable water underground over long distances.
can be installed in either a trench or embankment conditions, it has incredibly
versatile applications in construction.
It can even be installed by jacking or micro-tunneling when open-cut is not
For instance, culverts are an important part of roadwork considerations,
placed in areas where water needs to flow under man-made structures.
They have to withstand heavy pressure loads from the construction atop them,
high amount of water flow inside, and the pressure from surrounding soil and
other materials, therefore RCP is ideal for these installations.
With the ability to transport large amounts of water quickly and efficiently,
RCP provides a leading solution in agricultural settings.
The installation of buried RCP can help with irrigation efforts and
environmental management applications, rather than using surface level piping
that has to deal with uneven topography of textured soils.
Because of its
lifespan of over 100 years, RCP buried pipe is an excellent choice for irrigated
agriculture in farming and will last for endless rotations of crops and their
Furthermore, the buried pipe is free of environmental issues such as
freezing, blockages, or roadway interference to which open channel irrigation
systems or above ground piping would be subjected.
Considerations of RCP
Now that the applications and usage of RCP have been discussed, let us
investigate more practical aspects of concrete pipe. When it comes to RCP, the
physical aspects of handling, installing, and the actual joints and diameters
of the pipes themselves are crucial to the strength, efficiency, and longevity
of the pipe system.
Sizes and Uses
General RCP specifications for projects are as
Diameters (D) = 12” to 144”
12” to 144” diameters are typical for conveyance of sewage, storm drainage,
and culvert systems. Other applications are irrigation systems and
treatment plant piping.
Diameters (D) = 15” to 144”
15” to 144” round equivalent diameters of elliptical pipe are excellent
choices for spatial restrictions, clearance limitations, or when a piping
system requires greater flow capacity for shallow conditions.
Elliptical RCP has a geometric, flattened ellipse shape that can be
orientated to have either a horizontal or vertical major axis.
Diameters (D) = 15” to 84”
15” to 84” round equivalent diameters, with sizes up to 144” equivalent
diameter available in some locations, arch pipe is similar to elliptical pipe
in use, including for various storm water applications. Shaped into an
arch form, this pipe is good for limited cover conditions and improved
hydraulic capacity at low flows.
When installing sections of RCP, 2 workers, 1 foreman, and a backhoe or crane
operator are necessary. Workers securely manage the pipe and with the
assistance of a crane or backhoe, it is lowered into place.
The spigot end of the new section is typically slotted into the bell end of
the previously installed pipe. It is essential to place and join the sections
of RCP correctly and securely.
Any joints for a concrete pipe system need to be able to withstand pressure,
structural stressors, possible erosion and environmental concerns, and other
considerations. Joints are important for limiting inflow and infiltration in a
closed system. Some of the most commonly used joints in RCP systems include:
These kinds of
concrete pipe joints each have unique advantages that include inherent strength,
flexibility, soil-tightness, and leak resistance.
Concrete joints are designed to control the positioning and compression of
the sealing materials or gaskets, allowing the rigid nature of the joint to
govern the hydraulic characteristics of seals, bends, and junctions. Further,
joint deflection allows the flexibility of the pipe joints to the minimum
angular deflection specified, to form a long radius or to return to grade.
Even with larger degrees of angular deflection within specification limits,
pressure on the joints is bearable and supported by the pipe material itself.
Testing and inspection of joints used in RCP are thoroughly covered by
national standards set by ASTM International.
AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
pipelines and their placement affect roadways, the national standards of
AASHTO (the American Association of State Highway and Transportation
Officials) are referenced.
These governing bodies utilize plant tests to verify joint strength,
including vacuum, water, air, and exposure.
Concrete pipe joints are manufactured according to ASTM International
standards, providing project appropriate joint designs that can include the
following performance characteristics:
Ease of installation
Strength to handle shear or vertical shift
Pipeline continuity and smooth flow without interruptions.
Resistance to infiltration of groundwater or backfill materials
Resistance to exfiltration of sewage or storm water
Benefits of RCP
For decades, concrete pipe has been the first choice of contractors, city
planners, engineers, and transportation departments.
Not only is RCP an incredibly versatile pipe material, but its proven long
lifespan also means that any large-scale installations will remain reliably in
place and save costs on unnecessary repairs or replacements.
Other benefits of RCP's inherent resiliency and sustainability
include locally sourced material, reinforcements and pipelines that
are resistant to disruptive events. These benefits provide RCP
installations that will last for more than 100 years with few problems.
Because RCP provides reliable pipeline solutions for a
variety of projects, including deep burials, open-cut trenches,
shallow burials, trench-less, tunnels, or complex alignment
changes, concrete piping is the solution for all drainage
Concrete pipe provides versatility in many project applications
since it is available in a variety of shapes and sizes and is more
forgiving during the installation process.
When it comes to design, RCP is manufactured in a variety of
sizes, shapes, seal options, and joint designs.
Lining and coating options also allow concrete pipes to handle
even the most aggressive environments.
RCP has several built-in features that benefit
installation and performance.
The pipe's mass makes it more durable to install and resistant to
flotation. RCP's rigidity allows it to greatly outperform other
flexible piping systems in terms of hydraulics and liquid mass
The variety of joints applicable to RCP are a beneficial aspect
of using concrete piping—from soil-tight to pressure gaskets, RCP
joint integrity is monitored by certification boards and ASTM and
AASHTO standards. Joint integrity lessens the likelihood of
substance infiltration or embedment intrusion.
American Society for Testing and Material
American Association of State Highway and Transportation
This is an important consideration when it comes to
laying pipelines through marshy, boggy, or low-laying environs,
where buoyancy can become an issue.
Buoyancy of buried pipelines depends on pipe mass and the weight
of water it displaces. The performance of RCP is excellent, given
that the mass of concrete pipe typically counteracts buoyant
force, and the mass of liquid carried by RCP is enough to securely
The production of RCP is a highly regulated and
Standard setting bodies such as ASTM and AASHTO are able to exert
quality control standards over RCP products and each step of their
Regulated RCP production includes computer-controlled
proportioning and mixing systems, absorption testing, and
automated recording systems.
In fact, the American Concrete Pipe Association (ACPA) implements
an on-going quality assurance program called the “Quality Cast” Plant Certification Program,
or Qcast for short. Additionally, precast RCP is manufactured in a
controlled environment where each piece receives a quality check
prior to shipping.
As previously mentioned, RCP has many factors that make it a
long-lasting product. But what specific lifespan estimate can you expect
from RCP once it has been installed?
The United States Army Corps of Engineers has attested to a usage lifespan of up to 100 years for a
reinforced concrete pipe, and has documented numerous instances of
installations that have lasted even longer than these parameters. According to
the US Environmental Protection Agency, concrete pipes will last at least 100
years, and very large pipes can be expected to last for several centuries.
usage lifespan attested by US Army Corps of Engineers
So, between its resilience and resistance to environmental factors, the
Estimated Material Service Life of RCP exceeds alternative materials.
Life of Piping
When it comes to measuring pipeline lifespan, regardless of the material,
“serviceability” is the key consideration—defined as the period of time for
which a product can function at its intended role.
For example, the serviceability of sewers or culverts running underneath
roadways would have to be considered as a conduit to transmit water and as a
structure to support roadwork above.
The Canadian Ministry of Transportation's Gravity Pipe Design Guideline
(GPDG) lists the following as factors in material degradation product wear:
Slow Crack Growth
Soil and Water Resistivity
Electro-Chemical Corrosion of Steel
Acid, Chloride, or Sulphate Corrosion
Ultimately, these factors are the determinants for a pipe's life
cycle analysis, or LCA, which refers to the number of years that a
structure, system, or material will provide adequate service before needing
Understanding the factors that affect the estimated life span of pipelines is
important to determining the longevity of RCP, and because of its natural
strength and resistance to many environmental stressors and corrosion,
concrete piping has one of the best serviceable lifespans, with serviceability of at least 100 years.
Because this type of damage is caused by water penetrating the
concrete and freezing, a well-made reinforced concrete pipe will
not have an issue with this due to the high density and quality of
Additionally, RCP is typically buried with the earth providing
insulation from the elements and from rapid temperature changes.
Thaw damage is a concern for more porous types of concrete that
are exposed, such as asphalt or segmental retaining wall blocks.
With both of these corrosives, in order to actually damage RCP,
the solutions must permeate the concrete in high concentrations,
and have a supply of oxygen.
This is unlikely to occur with concrete piping, and no evidence
has been reported that documents chloride-induced corrosion issues
in RCP. Because of the additives and liners that can be
incorporated in production, RCP in sanitary applications
successfully resists corrosion attacks and H2S degradation,
meeting or exceeding the100 year design life.
& Enhancements in RCP
Because pipelines and the construction industry are always innovating and
pursuing the newest in manufacturing technology, you can always expect enhancements to RCP. Let's take a
look at some of the latest developments in RCP production.
In terms of future RCP trends, there have been experiments with synthetic fibers
imbedded into the concrete itself in order to minimize the
need for steel reinforcement, lessening any potential issues with
steel corrosion that could occur in rare circumstances.
Luckily, you can keep abreast of the latest news and innovations in concrete
piping with websites like the American Concrete Pipe Association's “Latest News” section.
Significant structural strength Concrete pipe is rigid,
with a significant structural strength.
Double load barring capacity after installation The load
carrying capacity of RCP can more than double after it is installed, because
of the benefit gained by the bedding supporting the pipe.
Adjustable structural strength of RCP The structural
strength of RCP can be adjusted in several ways, by varying the wall
thickness, concrete strength, and the amount and shape of the steel material
Because RCP does not have vulnerability to such damages, and has such a high
structural integrity when installed, RCP is a more versatile, reliable, and
long-term choice for various installations and infrastructure projects, with
service lasting at least 100 years.
RCP is a standard pipe material utilized in countless industrial projects and
construction applications. Used for sanitation systems, storm sewers,
irrigation, culverts, water management, and treatment plant channeling,
reinforced concrete piping is a mainstay in modern city planning and
industrial work. RCP has undeniable, proven benefits, including its
inherent strength, durability, resistance, cost-effectiveness, and ease of
consideration of RCP is its incredible lifespan of over 100 years.
Choosing RCP for construction and industrial applications is the best
option for expense, environment, and longevity.